Written by Adrianne Madden
April 26, 2011
"Just once," one fisherman said to another before the start of Monday night's public hearing in Portland on the proposed 2011 Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas, "I'd like to come to a meeting in support of a rule instead of fighting it."
But the standing room only crowd that packed the Massachusetts Room at the Holiday Inn was decidedly not favoring the NMFS proposal.
"How many people in the room support the proposed rule?" Robert Fitzpatrick, a Maine tuna dealer for 20 years, asked the crowd.
Three hands went up.
The big sticking point is NMFS' proposal to subtract 160 metric tons of dead discards, which the agency says is the best estimate from 2009, from the total U.S. bluefin tuna allocation of 923.7 metric tons. Even after adding the 2010 underharvest of 94.9 metric tons, the adjusted 2011 bluefin quota falls to 858.6 metric tons.
And that shrinks every harvest sector's sub-quota, too.
But some of the comments suggested U.S. fisheries management policy and actions may pose as great a challenge to tuna harvesters as the discards proposal does.
Fitzpatrick said U.S. officials, not the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, are responsible, for example, for limiting the amount of leftover quota that can be carried forward to 10 percent of a country's quota.
"Our own government puts the handcuffs on us, makes us walk the plank, then gets in front of us and says, 'ICCAT did this to us,'" Fitzpatrick said. "The U.S. government pushed the changes through that eliminated the rollover."
Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe's office submitted written testimony, noting that the senator had urged NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco to pursue at November's ICCAT session a modest and scientifically justifiable increase in the TAC for the western stock of Atlantic bluefin.
But Lubchenco instead sought and secured a reduction of the TAC by 50 metric tons, Snowe wrote. Doing so, Snowe wrote, has "exacerbated the challenge of developing the base quotas for both 2011-2012 and will tighten the margins for these fishermen."
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